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Understanding Universal Design

The basic principle behind universal design is to make a space or product usable for everyone.
by Whitney Richardson

GE Profile pullout freezer drawers
Pullout bottom freezer drawers, like this set from the GE Profile appliance collection, allow greater accessibility than top freezers and require less bending over to grab items. Full-length handles make opening and closing doors a cinch.

Most people have been pigeonholed into homes designed with an unrealistic ideal in mind: According to the Universal Design Alliance, housing stock is built to accommodate an average-build 25-year-old, 6-foot-tall male—a configuration that comprises only a sliver of the U.S. population. The changing demographics and its needs have prompted designers to rethink household layout. That's where universal design comes in.

The basic principle behind universal design is to make a space or product usable for everyone, says John Salmen, president of Universal Designers & Consultants. Although it's typically been associated with design for aging or handicapped individuals, the tenets also apply to people dealing with height constraints (too tall or too short) or right- versus left-handed applications.

Getting Started
According to John, the first question you need to ask yourself to determine what features will make your home more readily accessible is: "What are the needs of people using my home?" This includes primary inhabitants and their possible future conditions, as well as the needs of guests.

At the heart of universal design is circulation—how people move in and around the home. This includes a no-step entry to the home, access to all levels in the home and space to maneuver within each room. At a minimum, you want one bedroom and one full bathroom on the main level of the home so that someone is always able to get to these two locations. Your lifestyle and how you use your home will determine whether additional rooms—such as the kitchen or laundry room—need to be accessible from the main level as well, notes John.

Features such as non-slip bars in the shower and near the toilet; curbless showers for easy entrance; a tub with seating; adjustable, handheld showerheads; and waterproof flooring are the focus for this space. Easy-to-use controls are another component, including built-in pressure and heat control for the shower and easy toilet-flushing capabilities, whether through a lever or motion sensor.

In order to make this space universal, cabinet faces should be 48 inches from the wall and fitted with loop or touch-latch hardware, according to the Center for Universal Design (CUD). Rollout shelving prevents the need to bend over and root around the back of lower cabinets.

For people who need to sit while working in the kitchen, create knee space under sinks, counters and cooktops so they can pull up a chair. The CUD recommends a free space that's a minimum of 29 inches from the floor. You can achieve this through removable base cabinets, or fold-back or self-storing doors. Additionally, you'll want to elevate appliances such as ovens and dishwashers so the pullout racks are equal height with the adjacent countertop.

Pullout shelving is key in refrigerators, as are accessible interior controls. Pay attention to doors, too. "Side-by-side refrigerators give access to tall and short people," John notes, and bottom freezers are accessible to everyone. Full-length door handles are easier to grasp and use, and even the color of your fridge comes into play. To aid poor eyesight, opt for a color that contrasts with and is distinguishable from the rest of the cabinetry and appliances.

For most people, light switches mounted between 44 to 48 inches above the floor will do the trick, with either rocker switches that you press instead of flip (similar to what you see on a surge protector) or touch control for minimal effort. Remote controls are another low-effort option, both for lighting and central heating. For a virtually no-effort experience, motion detectors can be installed to immediately turn lights on when you enter the room.

Lighting also can be used as a visual alert to a ringing doorbell or as an alarm for the smoke detector to aid the hearing impaired.

Additional Service
Two words: pulls and levers. Whether on a kitchen cabinet, a bedroom door or sink faucet, this type of hardware makes it easy for anyone to open doors or adjust items as needed. Non-slip textures are preferred for a better grip, as are pieces that contrast in color with the wall, countertop or door they accompany to clearly distinguish it. Levers should be about 5 inches long, while pulls should allow an item to be opened with one hand, closed fist.

Overall, "you're looking for products that can be used in a variety of ways," John says. That means items that are visual, audible and tactical, such as a stove that's clearly discernible from the rest of the kitchen, has temperature alerts, and timers along with distinguishable buttons and knobs that are easy to locate and use.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design   Resources
1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
3. Simple & Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
7. Size & Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user's body size, posture or mobility.
  Universal Designers & Consultants —
Center for Universal Design —
Universal Design Alliance —
Global Universal Design Commission —

Published in Log Home Living
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  1. I love you

    mrs. lemeshevskiyApril 22, 2009 @ 1:03 pmReply

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